Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – You want to talk about ironies of irony, this is one. You have an agency that exceeds its authority. The reason it exceeds its authority is because there is no authority. It’s an anarchy. It makes it up as it goes along. It doesn’t care what the Constitution says. It doesn’t care what the Congress says. Hell, it probably doesn’t care what Obama says. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Conor Friedersdorf posted this piece while we were on holiday, on the 27th, but it is relevant today. I had not read this treatise that he refers to about how the NSA was illegally and unconstitutionally and deceitfully created. You want to talk about ironies of irony, this is one. These people that are operating this agency are the clandestine creeps that Ben Franklin was warning about in his speech cautioning the delegates in the Federal Convention of 1787 against forming a unitary executive. Boy, was Franklin correct. Well, Patrick Henry was correct, too. Here’s the story:
In 1982, James Bamford published The Puzzle Palace, an unprecedented journalistic look at the National Security Agency. [Mike: As I said, this is the first I’ve ever heard of this book.] This is an opportune moment to revisit it. Current readers can’t help but be struck by its portents of things to come. As well, the sudden interest in the NSA following the Edward Snowden leaks has exposed a huge gulf between what surveillance state nerds know to be public information and what the general public actually knows about the secretive agency.
Perhaps an impromptu book club would narrow the gap. I’ll offer brief reflections as I go, and anyone who wants to read along and comment can get the book here. [Mike: I’m going to link to the book and place it in our library so it’ll be easy to find.]
Chapter One cover’s the agency’s birth. It was maximally secretive from the start: President Truman created the NSA with the stroke of a pen at the bottom of a classified 7-page memorandum. Even the name
was initially classified. Decades later, the memorandum that acted as the agency’s charter remained secret. Reflect on that for a moment. In a representative democracy, the executive branch secretly created a new federal agency and vested it with extraordinary powers. Even the document setting forth those powers was suppressed. [Mike: Folks, Congress didn’t even know about this.]
Thus the chapter’s most arresting excerpt:
“As a result of this overwhelming passion for secrecy, few persons outside the inner circle of America’s intelligence community have recognized the gradual shift in power and importance from the Central Intelligence Agency to the NSA. Thus, it was to a surprised Congress that the Senate Intelligence Committee reported: ‘By the budget yardstick, the most influential individual in the intelligence community is the Director of the NSA, who, including his new role as Chief of the Central Security Service [Mike: Whatever the hell that might be.], manages the largest single program contained in the national intelligence budget.’”
Again, this is remarkable: in a representative democracy with a bicameral legislature, Congress was surprised to find that a federal intelligence agency they’d scarcely heard of was bigger and more powerful than one that they’d created. Even after post-Vietnam cutbacks . . .
Mike: Folks, I want you to think about this for just a moment. You want to tell me that our magisterial and mighty federal leviathan is worthy of preservation? Ponder that question. Is it worthy of preservation after you hear this?
Even after post-Vietnam cutbacks, the NSA counted 68,203 staffers in 1978, making it bigger than all other intelligence agencies combined. And it was unlike other agencies:
“Despite its size and power…no law has ever been enacted prohibiting the NSA from engaging in any activity. There are only laws to prohibit the release of any information about the Agency. ‘No statute establishes the NSA,’ former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Frank Church reported, ‘or defines the permissible scope of its responsibilities.’ The CIA, on the other hand, was established by Congress under a public law, the National Security Act of 1947, setting out that agency’s legal mandate as well as the restrictions on its activities. In addition to being free of legal restrictions, the NSA has technological capabilities for eavesdropping beyond imagination.”
Mike: He wrote this in 1982, folks. By my count, that is 31 years ago. How big do you think that mammoth hive of corruption and deceit is? How many copies of the Fourth Amendment are floating around inside that labyrinth? You want to know why they had to build this one-square-mile facility in the Utah desert and put most of it underground so no one would ever know what was going on inside there? This is why! Let me ask young Eric a question. Do you ever play the game —
Eric: Resident Evil?
Mike: Yes, thank you. Have you ever heard of this? Have you ever seen any of the movies with Milla Jovovich?
Eric: I never saw any of the movies. I played a couple of the games, though. From what I understand, they’re not the same as the games.
Mike: The Umbrella Corporation in Raccoon City, that is the NSA in fiction, but it’s all too real, isn’t it? You know what’s going on in the hive, which is all underground, cannot be seen from the surface, no one knows what’s down there save for the people that are in it. That is exactly what they’re doing in Utah. What creates the need for this secrecy? Because we cannot know what it is they’re doing. In other words, they are restricted. They are governed by no authority under the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, how can they morally exist? Where is the authority for this? Friedersdorf concludes:
So the agency’s leading chronicler wrote in 1982.
Its capabilities are orders of magnitude bigger now, and the DNA present at its creation–huge, powerful, and unusually unaccountable–continues to shape it today.
Mike: Folks, this is scary stuff here. I read this and there’s not very many things that shock me anymore. I knew that this was a clandestine operation that had not been created by Congress because you can search for it. You’ll come up with goose eggs. There is no act of Congress that ever created the NSA. As a matter of fact, you probably can’t even find funding for the darn thing in the federal budget they file every year. Now we know a little bit about the story. This book has just been laying around, The Puzzle Palace, since 1982. The things that Edward Snowden alerted the world to are tips of proverbial icebergs. Let me leave you with this: Guess who’s on the Titanic?
End Mike Church Show Transcript